Friday, January 27, 2012

Book of War: Siege of Bridgefaire

Two weekends ago, I high-tailed it up to RI, so as to help out my good friend Paul in running a large and critical battle in his D&D campaign that we'll call the Siege of Bridgefaire. This fight sees a walled town called Bridgefaire undergoing an assault by a large force of undead skeletons, zombies, siege towers, and a high-level necromancer (hence the earlier tests on my part). Even better, our other friend BigFella made the trip down from Boston, we divided the attacking forces three ways between us, and then we literally "went to town" against Paul's players (5 of whom joined us to run the defending opposition this afternoon).

For what it's worth, Paul's campaign is actually an expansion starting from AD&D Module L1: The Secret of Bone Hill, which he plays using Moldvay B/X rules (basically). The nearby town of Restenford, detailed in that work, was the focal point of an earlier battle (see links at bottom). Pelltar the wizard has been an active and important member of the defense in both of these fights (as you'l see below).

Paul's also recently gotten into 10mm miniature wargaming, so he can fit a lot more figures on the table at once, and they take up less storage space and painting time. Since Book of War conventionally assume figures like 25/30mm (like those used in D&D or Warhammer), there was some advance discussion on whether the rules needed to change or not. My position was to say no; as long as everything is all scaled together (even approximately so), there really shouldn't be enough difference to worry about, or justify re-basing everything. Perhaps if I was being paid to push some particular miniature product line I'd be compelled to say something different; but I'm not, so it seems like the best answer is to "play with whatever you've got".

Setup -- Here's the town and surrounding terrain as set up by Paul & myself the night before. As you can see, the defenses include walls, towers, and a gate. Outside there are hills and a river -- uncrossable except at the shallow ford, which is itself defended by an external tower on a high bluff. We also gave the players the option to specify a secret sally port (location unknown to us until they decide to use it) which they can exit but we can't enter.

Turn 1 -- Below you'll see our undead army right after we've taken our first move forward. We have something on the order of 30 zombie figures, 40 skeleton archers, 80 skeleton infantry, 3 siege towers, and a 13th-level wizard necromancer with a fireball wand (as usual, representing about 1500 individual troops on the ground). The defenders have about 20 archer figures, 10 crossbows, 10 light infantry, 10 heavy infantry, 10 medium cavalry, and one 9th-level wizard with a lightning wand (Pelltar from L1). They also have 3 figures of acolytes -- representing 30 organized 1st-level clerics from the town who can use a collective turn undead once during the game (and otherwise fight as light infantry). The defenders spent quite some time planning their strategy with us out of the room (smart), including initial placement of figures, division of control, and spell selection. You can see in the picture that they've bunched a lot of figures behind the main gate -- this being a feint, as their plan is to actually stream out of the hidden sally port which is in a different location.

Turn 2 -- Our undead army pushes forward, taking just a very few hits from wizard's lightning and long-range archery. The external tower actually started off with the roof filled with archers, but my very first move (I'm controlling far left, closest to the photo) was to position skeleton archers close-by across the river, and unleash a hellish fusillade on the tower; this instantly wiped out all the defenders except one figure of archers and heavy infantry (invulnerable in the tower), and now my skeleton archers are marching forward to the town proper. I've also got a squad of zombies clawing their way up the hill to assault that tower. Other interesting note: Due to no-morale for undead, we're just throwing our army towards the walls as fast as possible, even outrunning the slower siege towers to do so. If this were a mortal army it would probably be a self-defeating tactic (you'd want to more carefully protect yourself behind protective implements), but as mindless undead we don't care so much. So the use of siege towers sort of flip-flops for us, and they'll be a follow-up strike, not the initial hit on the walls (with everyone else carrying some ladders for a direct escalade).

Turn 4 -- Cavalry charge! Here the defender's medium cavalry have poured forth out of the sally port beyond the far right tower. The nearer units have almost entirely destroyed one of our skeleton units (one figure left by the red die), but the further one has gotten held up by the more powerful zombies. Now they're facing a line of skeleton archers who are about to recklessly pour arrows into them, our skeletons, and some of the zombies, as well. Also, Paul & BigFella have maneuvered another big unit of skeletons over the hills in that direction to backup our forces on that side. Outside the picture: I've got the skeleton archers raining arrows on the wall defenders, trying to degrade them as much as possible before we escalade to the battlements.

Turn 6 -- Several of our units have now made contact with the town wall, and are trying to climb it a few figures at a time -- but they'll taking gruesome losses from the double-attacks permitted to wall defenders as they throw down rocks, spears, and boiling oil. Close-by, I've got a figure of zombies in the tower meleeing with the heavy infantry there (I even had to delay and turn my siege tower because archers were about to degrade my skeleton pushers). But the far right is more critical -- the defender's cavalry were a very real threat to run over our lines there, and gain access and maneuvering at our backs around the whole table. So while we very much wanted our wizard to get close to the town wall, he's currently locked down on the topmost peak of the far hill, so that he can lob a death spell and fireballs at those enemy cavalry (results of which can be seen by the fiery-red dice around that part of the board). Next turn we'll finally succeed in getting them to rout off the top of the board, and our wizard will be free to press the assault again. But at the same time: We're going to lose the entirety of that big units of skeletons beyond the hills, as the defenders bunch up all their acolytes together and, with some exceptional rolls, turn the entire batch of them all at once! (That's like 15 figures or 150 skeletons lost to us in the next attack phase; for simplicity we just remove them from the board once they're turned.)

Turn 8 -- With our primary plan delayed, Paul decides to have our necromancer break away from his bodyguard skeletons and dash across the battlefield towards the wall (in think there's a scene in the Two Towers movie a little bit like that). Once he gets close enough, he casts disintegrate on the wall by the gate, opening up a gap that we can move troops through freely! Amongst our weaponry are also such diverse elements as escalades, siege towers against the wall, and more archery to kill the acolytes in revenge. But notice here that crafty Pelltar (you can see him standing alone in the far tower) has cast a wall of fire (dice) in front of our siege engine, so that a follow-up group of skeletons is barred from using it. They've had to turn to the side and aim towards the gap made by our necromancer, instead of actually being on the wall and threatening Pelltar himself in the tower.

Turn 10 -- Both sides (especially ours) are much reduced from ferocious hand-to-hand fighting at the town wall itself. Our skeletons are hung up once again at the gate itself, as lightly-armored defenders gather and push back against us through the gap. On the very far right, wizards battle with high-level magic. First, Pelltar let his wall of fire go in order to conjure earth elemental (completely unhittable by our troops) on the wall where our siege tower was letting forces up. Then, our necromancer moved to that side and cast dispel magic to eliminate the elemental. He's already been hit by a lightning bolt, but fortunately made his saving throw (yay us! aww players). Next turn, our wizard himself climbs the siege tower and makes a determined push to blast into the tower and slay Pelltar personally; he takes another lightning-hit but saves. A single heavy infantry figure bars the way; he casts two fireballs but manages to miss with both of them (boom! as the explode against the stone of the tower). The next turn, more defenders flow up through the tower to protect Pelltar, and the opportunity is lost -- our Necromancer decides to teleport away from the battle, ceding the town to the brave burghers. (And note: I never managed to kill that last heavy infantry in the outside tower, blast it!)

Turn 12 -- Victory to the defenders! Here you can see arrayed the remaining troops from this battle, standing battered but unbowed on the smoldering town walls. (Recall that they started with over 60 figures at the start, and us with 150.) Well played, defenders, well played.

Commentary -- An excellent and exciting battle! And as usual, it was great fodder for playtest feedback on how the game runs -- in the case, especially for me to see some people who'd played BOW from the book without my prior intervention. Like, there were some rules interpretations that were different from mine (like semi-accidentally using a Warhammer rule for hill movement, not pre-declaring moves and attacks, etc.). This was the most people I've seen to date all participating in a single battle at once (namely 8 -- which worked better than I might have feared, working quite well to semi-divide force responsibility). I saw that some refinements might be warranted to the castle-attacks rules (like clarifying how to target archery against wall sections, and maybe not allowing defenders to closely bunch up and still get double-attacks). And then there were the first-time-ever elements that got used here (like siege towers, earth elementals, etc.)

Finally, Paul pointed out the rather uncanny similarity between one of our photos and a very old snapshot of Arneson & company, posted on Grognardia just a few days after our game. Yikes! And a huge thanks to Paul, BigFella, and everyone else who played with us.

More views on the Siege of Bridgefaire:

And the earlier Battle of Restenford:


  1. Thanks, D! I enjoyed reading your recap, and I was in suspense as to the outcome until the end.

  2. ^ Thank you for saying so! It really was a nice, tension-filled battle. And I do enjoy writing these up afterward. :-)

  3. It was a pleasure beating you at your own game. :-)

    PS. I controlled Peltar.

  4. [Shakes fist] Peltaaaaaarrrrrr!!!